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How I started this thing: GigBuddies Sydney

Carol Smail, CEO GigBuddies Sydney, shares how a chance meeting helped start a volunteer program to increase access to performances for people with disability.

How I started this thing is a series of stories from people who’ve received City of Sydney grants. They share their journey in their own words, along with handy tips on navigating the grant process.

A spontaneous encounter

At GigBuddies, we’re all about bringing people together. The Sydney chapter of the UK-based project came about thanks to a series of serendipitous moments.

GigBuddies pairs people with learning disabilities with volunteers to head off to events together. I’d never heard of it before walking into a conference in Birmingham and hearing the UK present. I found the concept fascinating, and made a point to go and speak to them afterwards. I ended up going to Brighton to spend a few days with them. On the last day, the founder Paul Richards asked, “Why don’t you do GigBuddies in Sydney?”

Bringing the idea to life

Having arrived back in Sydney I discovered that the City of Sydney had put out a call for ideas on its Live Music Matters project. I wrote a letter outlining GigBuddies. A week later I received a call from the City of Sydney.  The team wanted to meet to discuss potential funding. That was 3 years ago.

My grant tips for others

I’d tell other people planning to apply for a grant with City of Sydney to really read the criteria. Some organizations get professionals to write their application for them, but I genuinely believe it’s better if it comes from the people who are actually invested in the project. You need to show why your idea is important and different from what’s already out there. Don’t be one-dimensional – have a vision and look beyond your initial stages of development.

Our success story

There are so many people out there with learning disabilities or autism who would love to see live music, but are missing out for a number of reasons. A lot of the time it’s purely because they don’t have anyone to go with them.

The reason GigBuddies works so well is we’re pairing 2 people with the same interests. One of the things that strikes me when volunteers sign up is that they often say that they don’t see it as volunteering because it’s so mutually beneficial. Their friends or partners might not get their taste in music, and they’d prefer not to go to a gig alone. At its simplest it’s about uniting 2 people who really love something, be it punk rock, NRL or even meteorology.

Both the buddies and volunteers are forming genuine friendships with people they might otherwise have had no way of coming into contact with. Plus, the venues are getting extra audience members, so everyone benefits.

The confidence levels of so many buddies have skyrocketed. Recently, a group of us went to the football because we’ve partnered with the Cronulla Sharks, and this one guy came along without his volunteer. When I first met him he was so shy – he’d never been to a pub in his life or anywhere alone. And there he was at the footy, having the time of his life. He’d caught a train across Sydney by himself, and told us how much he enjoyed it. It’s incredibly gratifying to see him have the kind of freedom that most people take for granted.

If you have a great idea that would benefit the local community, the City of Sydney’s grants and sponsorships program may be able to help. Applications for matching and environmental performance grants are open until 19 November.

Find out more or volunteer for Gig Buddies Sydney.

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